Ensuring a rights-based response to Zika

Since early 2016, GHJP* has worked with a core group of partners in Brazil to carry out a series of research and advocacy activities to address the health and human rights issues surrounding the Zika epidemic. Our approach is to stress the relationship between overall rights enjoyment and the impacts of Zika. This means our concerns foreground the obligations of the state toward the most marginalized women who bear the brunt of the epidemic’s reproductive health outcomes.

In alignment with this analysis and to support the advocacy goals of our Brazilian partners, we have:

Submitted a hearing request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
In 2021, GHJP joined the Center for Reproductive Rights, Instituto Anis, and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in the submission of a hearing request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the human rights situation of women and girls in Brazil in the context of Covid-19, in particular women affected by the Zika virus, as well as their children. The objective of the hearing request is to present updated information to the Commission on i) the Brazilian State failures to address the consequences of the Zika epidemic, especially regarding the situation of women and children affected by the Zika virus, which has worsened as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic; ii) how the Brazilian State’s failure over the years to fulfill its obligations regarding Economic, Social, Cultural Rights (ESCR) is related to both the Zika epidemic and Covid-19´s disproportionately impact on marginalized groups, especially women and children who have inadequate access to health services, basic sanitation, and clean water, iii) the increased situation of vulnerability in which women find themselves as a consequence of the regression in sexual rights and reproductive rights observed in the country and aggravated in the context of the Covid-19. The hearing request is available in English and Portuguese.

Prepared an Expert’s Statement for petition to Brazilian Supreme Court
In coordination with GHJP partner Instituto Anis, the Brazilian National Association of Public Defenders (ANADEP) submitted a petition to the Brazilian Supreme Court in August 2016 to ensure expanded reproductive health services for women affected by Zika (including the option to terminate a pregnancy) and increased social services and support for families with children affected by Zika. As part of the petition, GHJP Practicum students prepared a "parecer" or expert's statement on gaps in the Ministry of Health’s current Zika guidelines for reproductive health care providers. The statement is available in English and Portuguese. Read the press release here.

Co-hosted an International screening of the documentary Zika
In April 2016, GHJP co-sponsored the international release of a documentary about women in Northeast Brazil who have been impacted by the Zika epidemic. The documentary was directed by Debora Diniz, co-founder of partner Instituto Anis, and provides a powerful glimpse into the concerns and challenges facing women who were infected with Zika during their pregnancy. GHJP faculty and students provided input during the final editing stages for the documentary and support in the preparation of English subtitles. The documentary can be viewed here.

Launched a Qualitative study on linkages between reproductive health and Zika
GHJP faculty and partners are currently carrying out qualitative research with adult women and men in in Brazil on perceptions, experiences, and concerns related to reproductive health in Zika-affected areas. The first stage of the research was launched in July 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Analysing policy responses to the Zika epidemic
In spring 2017, in collaboration with the Center for Reproductive Rights, GHJP students carried out  public health, law and human rights-based analyses of policy responses to the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil and El Salvador, paralleling CRR-led investigations on the responses in Colombia and globally. The methodology included desk-based research and in-country interviews with affected women and their families, as well as with civil society and government stakeholders engaged in surveillance, prevention, health and social supports, and legal advocacy.

In fall 2018, the final reports were released  by CRR in a series called “Unheard Voices,” which includes in-depth analyses of the responses in Brazil, El Salvador, and Colombia, as well as a broader examination of the response from the international community, including key intergovernmental actors.

The reports highlight the role of structural inequities in precipitating the epidemic and amplifying its impact, with particular attention to the disproportionate and gendered effects on women and girls in Latin America and throughout the Caribbean. Cutting across the country-specific reports is the finding that the Zika epidemic exposed and exacerbated pre-existing inequities, particularly those aligning with racial and urban/rural inequalities, and included failures in the lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare information and services, protections for children with disabilities, and adequate water and sanitation infrastructure.

The reports include testimonies by impacted individuals, laying bare the failures of governmental, legal and healthcare regimes to fulfill rights obligations and meet basic resource needs, but also pointing the way to possible remedies and future courses of action. The reports make clear that while the official public health emergency declarations related to Zika virus may be over, there must be sustained commitments to address the ongoing consequences of the epidemic, including the unmet and long-term needs of children born with Zika-related complications and disabilities.

The recommendation sections of the reports offer specific guidance to governments, healthcare systems, civil society, and private sector entities to inform on-going country and regional level efforts to ensure that policies prioritize the health and rights of those impacted by Zika, or any other future outbreak.

*All of GHJP's research and advocacy work related to the Zika crisis has been made possible by the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women's Rights.


Center for Reproductive Rights, Yale Global Health Justice Partnership, and Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, “Unheard Voices: Women's Experiences with Zika” (September 2018).

Baum, P. et. al., "Ensuring a rights-based health sector response to women affected by Zika” in Cadernos de Saude Publica (June 2016) (available in English and Portuguese)

Galli, B. and Ricardo, C., "Using a human rights accountability framework to respond to Zika” in Health and Human Rights (May 2016)  (available here)

In the News

Miller, A. et al. “Zika before the Brazilian Supreme Court: From a delay in hearing to denial of rights?” in JOTA, May 21, 2019 (available in English and Portuguese).

Sarah Bosely, “Zika emergency pushes women to challenge Brazil’s abortion law” The Guardian, July 19, 2016

Yale University, "In Brazil, Yale Students Advocate for Zika-Related Health Rights" May 19, 2016